I’ve been revisiting recently the excellent essay by Jonathan Edwards, “The Sin and Folly of Depending on Future Time“. In his characteristic style, Edwards diagnoses and dissects the problem of living in the future instead of being content to get on with making the most of the present moment that God has given us. This may sound over-the-top, but I’m gradually coming to realise that this is probably the biggest battle I struggle with in my life, the prior cause from which many of my other battles originate.
The Symptoms of Depending on Future Time
Let me illustrate with a couple of examples. God willing, I’m getting married in 172 days’ time, and I find it all too easy to just wish away the days and resent the fact that it’s so far away in the future. As at many other times in my life, I’ve fallen for that lie, that what I need is a change of circumstances – if only this were the case or if that were different, then I’d be able to get my life sorted out. Maybe it’s a change of jobs, maybe it’s living in a new place, maybe it’s graduating from university. Whatever it is, you look at your present situation and see all of the difficulties and downsides, a kind of “informed pessimism”, whereas you look at the grass on the other side and all you can see is potential and exciting opportunity – the optimism of ignorance. Instead of getting on with growing and serving in the situation God has currently put me in, I look to the future and imagine that I could serve him much more contentedly once I arrive at the next place. If prior experience is anything to go by, that’s absolute nonsense! Why should the next situation be any different from the current one, or the one before that? What possible grounds do I have for imagining that I’ll be any more content, until I learn to cease living in the future?
The other example I could give is in the daily battle to work productively, on whatever project it is that I’m currently struggling with. A piece of work that I need to tackle comes up, and instead of just getting on with it, I worry about how hard it might turn out to be. Or even sillier than that, I worry that I might actually finish it, and then what on earth would I do with myself? Anxiety about what the future might hold makes me shy away from fulfilling my responsibility in the present. It’s similar to the battle for patience regarding my wedding day: the thought of continuing to fight for another 172 days just seems too overwhelming – how can I possibly stay now-focussed for such a length of time?? And so it seems hardly worth even trying to battle in the present, and I give in.
An Alternative Way of Living
Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34 seem very pertinent: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on… which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Do not be anxious about tomorrow – sufficient for the day is its own trouble. In other words, leave the future for God to worry about. Your job is just to make the most of today, to fight sin today, to figure out how to love God and love your neighbour today. Now is the only moment of time God has actually entrusted to you to use – all the rest belongs to him.
A Personal Response
So what am I going to do in response to all these swirling thoughts?
Firstly, I’m going to try and take the issue more seriously and put some proper prayer into it each day.
Secondly, I think I’m going to try and start a journal. Try and write something each day, maybe one thing to be thankful for from the day that’s just passed, something that’s encouraged me from God’s word, maybe jot down a few thoughts about what the day ahead will hold and how I hope to make the most of it. Something, anything, to try and keep me rooted in the moment and encourage me to enjoy it and make the most of it rather than wishing I was somewhere else.
Thirdly, and I don’t really know how this one will work out, I’m going to try and slow down and enjoy life a little more, rather than always rushing from one thing to the next. Maybe make myself a cup of tea in the morning with my breakfast. Have a decent quiet time. Put a little music on when I get home from work. Enjoy doing my laundry and hanging out my socks to dry, rather than just resenting it. Hang out with Christian brothers and sisters after church chatting about the sermon. Basically, prayerfully seek to make the most of the situation God has put me in at that moment, rather than killing time until I’m somewhere else.